A friend of mine died recently, a Catholic friend, someone with whom I had shared many theological discussions with. He had no trouble listening to me babble on about my views and would even chuckle in the face of me bashing his God, or more appropriately, the "pushers of the poison". You must understand, I'm a jerk sometimes. So last Monday I took off work and attended his funeral to pay my respects. Now, I might point out here that I had a fairly strict Catholic upbringing myself, (my stepfather was a Deacon, albeit an oft intoxicated one) and in the subsequent eighteen years - give or take - since my complete rejection of all things ridiculous and just plain wrong about Catholicism, I've set foot in a Catholic church two maybe three times (weddings and the like). Well on this most recent return, I resigned myself to being as respectful as possible, without actually participating in any of the archaic rituals that went on during the service. Funny side note: Catholic funerals are remarkably similar to regular old Catholic mass, there just happens to be a casket in front of the altar.
Anyhow, I couldn't help but feeling as though I were at a funeral for Jesus, or God, or the entire Holy Trinity for that matter, it's hard to keep those three cats straight. Another friend that was next to me, who is basically a non-practicing Christian, and had never been to a Catholic service of any kind, expressed the same sentiment. So here I sit, hoping to at least listen to some fond words in remembrance of my friend, and I get a sermon. And another droll reading of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 To everything there is a season blah blah blah. . .
Being at this service made me think back to my father-in-law's funeral last May. His service was held in a funeral home. The funeral director was amazing to my wife's family. he was soft spoken, respected each of their wishes to the letter, and was in general just a damn nice guy. My wife and her brother had spoken with him about the fact that her dad was an atheist, that we were atheists, and a lot of the family who were there were also. He said no problem, and that a non-denominational minister would be driving in to do the service. The minister agreed to leave God out of it. On the day of, the minister had an emergency of some kind and cancelled. At the last minute, the funeral director found and brought in an evangelical preacher (unbeknownst to us at the time). When he showed up, the funeral director repeated my wife's wishes to the preacher, and he agreed: easy on the God-speak. When taking the podium, however, the preacher took up his mission with a smile on his face, calling out all non-believers to hear Jesus or be damned. Most of his sermon/speech/mouth ejaculation or whatever it was focused on the conversion or recruitment of atheists. He mentioned my father-in law's name twice. Once at the start of his tirade, and once when he finished by calling him a child of Christ. I stayed silently angered the same as my wife, being that we felt it was not the time and place for a riot and whatnot. My brother-in-law was turning red and made a move to stand up and confront him, but my mother-in-law grabbed hold of his arm and put a stop to it (recovering Catholic). Perhaps it was a good thing my wife's dad wasn't around to see his own funeral. He would have been a wee bit pissed.
I suppose I'll get on to my point then. What is acceptable etiquette for atheists at funeral services? Should we have stood up for him in front of the grieving masses? I had no problem holding my tongue and showing respect at my friend's service even though it was all the same nonsense I had openly opposed hundreds of times over. It wasn't my house, if I wanted to start a debate, I'd have gone to a forum for such things. Where is the line? I know the one I won't cross.